ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 25, 2021) – As students across the country prepare for a return to in-person learning this fall, the coronavirus is surging again, with the delta variant now accounting for most new U.S. cases and the number of children being infected steadily increasing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance in late July that encourages localities to require all K-12 teachers, students, and visitors in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vacation status. However, mask mandates and other social distancing guidelines in schools remain hotly debated topics.

Experts at the University at Albany are available to discuss the anticipated return to the classroom from a number of different angles:

Dolores Cimini is the director and a senior research scientist at the University’s Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research and is affiliated with UAlbany’s School of Education, a licensed psychologist, and director of the University’s Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, an agency recognized as a model/exemplary program in alcohol and other drug prevention.

Cimini can discuss the unique mental health concerns for young people coping with the pandemic, including managing anxiety.

“During recent decades, students have exhibited increasingly complex mental health concerns. The pandemic has made these challenges even more complicated. As we enter a new school year, we will all be embarking on an uncharted journey, and it is important for all of us to move forward with flexibility and compassion as well as a respect for science and best practices to promote health and reduce risks to our students.”

Ashley Fox is an associate professor at UAlbany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. She recently co-authored a study that found students of underrepresented groups have faced greater barriers to in-school instruction during the pandemic.

Fox can discuss the motivations behind school re-opening decisions and their impacts on widening existing achievement gaps.

“Unfortunately, school re-opening decisions have been driven more by fear, politics and resource constraints than a rational assessment, with the result being a significant and unnecessary widening of existing inequalities. Decisions that are made about how to reopen safely and enforce these measures will significantly affect the remaining course of the pandemic, especially under conditions where vaccine mandates are still not practically enforceable and children under 12 are not authorized to vaccinate.”

Jayson Kratoville is the interim director of UAlbany’s National Center for Security and Preparedness. He has argued from the start of the pandemic that businesses and communities should be prepared to face a new normal, even after most work from home orders are lifted.

Kratoville can discuss the reopening strategies for leaders at educational institutions, including how to communicate health and safety protocols.

“We are still experiencing a global crisis; maintaining the safety and effectiveness of our learning environments is critical. Leadership doesn’t stop at making a decision. What steps are you taking to empower faculty, staff, parents and students to implement these policies and adapt to uncertainty? Leaders who plan with a wide lens are better equipped to calmly navigate the storm.”

Samantha Penta is an assistant professor at UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. Her research focuses on health and medical issues during a crisis, decision-making in preparedness and response and humanitarian logistics. During the pandemic, she has led a study funded through the National Science Foundation to examine risk perception, information seeking and protective actions against COVID-19.

Penta can discuss the protective measures necessary for educational facilities to resume in-person learning.

“School reopenings are a hugely important part of how the remainder of the pandemic unfolds. In addition to disruption in children’s educational development, the inability to resume in-person education presents challenges for their caregivers in the workforce. However, how children return to in-person education is just as important as the return itself. Schools creating strategies for in-person education that fail to adopt the necessary COVID-19 protective measures will likely see infections rise and return to remote learning, prolonging the pandemic, as well as the educational and employment strains families have been struggling to cope with over the last year-plus.”

Tomoko Udo is an associate professor at UAlbany’s School of Public Health. She studies a wide range of addictive behaviors from alcohol/drug use to binge eating. During the pandemic, she has worked closely with leaders from the University in a public health advisory role, helped develop a campus student support team, and assisted in implementing a COVID-19 pooled surveillance testing program.

Udo can discuss the importance of eligible individuals getting vaccinated and safety measures to protect young children.

“The delta variant is spreading rapidly and children under 12 are still not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines. It is crucial that as many eligible adults and adolescents in school as possible get vaccinated and implement basic mitigate measures such as mask wearing to protect these younger children.”

Kristen C. Wilcox is an associate professor at UAlbany’s School of Education. Her research focuses on K-12 school instructional leadership and policy, particularly how these impact diverse students’ learning opportunities. As the research and development director of NYKids, a state-funded research-practice partnership, she has led a state-wide study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on K-12 leaders and educators.

Wilcox can discuss the roles school leaders play in buffering educators from workplace stress and the processes and practices that positively impact classroom-level innovations.

“How policymakers, school and district leaders frame uncertainty to dynamically changing events impact frontline educators’ levels of stress and experiences of secondary traumatic stress. Educators who have a sense of support by community members have more positive responses in terms of job satisfaction, a predictor of teacher attrition. In schools serving the most disadvantaged students, negative impacts of the pandemic are particularly concerning indicating that these schools will need intensive support to retain their workforce.”

About the University at Albany:

A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, businesseducation, public health, health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare and sociology, taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.



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